Wednesday 12 April 2017

Tom's, Twinings and Tweeds, a British institution

Twinings has long been associated with fine teas but actually sprang from Tom’s Coffee House. This blog explores a little of that early history and links to Tweed family members who lie within my own ancestral tree.

Walking along the Strand in 1706 a waft of aromatic coffee and stimulating chit chat may have enticed you to take a little diversion to savour the delights of Tom’s Coffee House*  tucked on the corner of the Strand and Devereaux Court. The rival Grecian Coffee House opposite boasted Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Hans Sloan and Dr Halley, calculator of the orbit of the eponymous comet, amongst its patrons. The air of the court was thick with learned argument and debate.

Thomas Twining (1675-1741)

Thomas Twining was born in Painswick, Gloucestershire and was nine when his father Daniel moved
the family to London. Thomas was apprenticed to a weaver but gave that up to work for early importer of tea and East India merchant, Thomas D’Aeth. He bought Tom’s Coffee House from Thomas D’Aeth in 1706 and began selling expensive tea alongside his coffee brews.

The business quickly took off and his fine tea blends were soon outselling the coffee. 
By 1717 he had expanded the business to three interlinked houses   around the original premises, serving hot tea in tiny china cups for a shilling and, offering exquisitely combined and single estate, dried blends to a top ranking customer list. Over the decades, Jane Austin, Josiah Wedgwood and Sir Christopher Wren ordered their tea from the shop.

Coffee Houses were strictly off limits to women so they resorted to sitting in their carriages whilst a groom or butler fetched the desired brew.
Artist, William Hogarth struggled financially as disreputable printers sold copies of his work without paying royalties. He built up a sizeable bill with Twinings and, reputedly, struck a bargain with Thomas. Hogarth painted a portrait of Thomas and thus cancelled out the debt.

The Twining dynasty holds some interesting descendants, including philanthropist, Elizabeth Twining who painted beautiful botanical watercolours and wrote “Ten Years in a Ragged School and Readings for Mothers Meetings”.
Her sister Louisa was also an artist and art historian with an active interest in social reform. 

Elizabeth Twining (1805-1889)

In 1856 Thomas’s Great, Great Granddaughter Frances Mary Twining married Rev Henry Wilson Tweed, my 6th cousin 5 times removed.
Their son Arthur James Tweed entered the family business and was one of six partners in 1892. He was also involved with the Twining banking business, Twining & Co. which merged with Lloyds in 1892.
Frances, or Fanny as she was known, sadly died in 1867 aged only 34. Henry went on to marry the splendidly monikered Louisa Anna Maria Von Stilfried du Rattonitz.

The family continued complicated interdynastic intertwining of the family interests as Dulcibella Twinings son, Charles Twining Sidgwick, married Ellen Frances Tweed, daughter of Henry, sister to Arthur. Keep up at the back!
Arthur’s daughter Ellen Irene Rosalind Tweed married Richard Haynes Twining in 1915, Richard went on to become Vice-Chairman of the Stock exchange and President of Middlesex County Cricket Club.

London Gazette, February 24, 1892

Many Twining family members were born and lived at 215 and 216 Strand, as well as owning properties in Twickenham and around the country.

Today it is the smell of crisp, aromatic tea leaves infused with bergamot or rose that pulls you through the sculpture embelished  doorway into a surprisingly narrow space, neatly packed with wooden shelves, copper dispensers with their own little tea scoops, and pristine glass cabinets. Gilt framed oil portraits of Twining ancestors stare down at a stream of customers from all parts of the globe, perhaps proud that the company holds the record for the oldest, unaltered, continuously used trademark in the world a mere 230 years after it was first designed.
*not to be confused with Tom’s Coffee House on Russell Street where owner, poor Thomas West jumped to his death in 1722 deranged in an agony of gout.

Twinings today c.HDT
Select sources and links:

London Gazette, February 24, 1892
The Annals of London, John Richardson, Cassell & Co. 2000
The London Encyclopaedia, C Hibbert et al, Macmillan  2008

Detailed botanical drawing by Elizabeth Twining

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